Though no one was killed or seriously injured, Thursday night’s fire at The Metropolitan apartment building in downtown Raleigh was one of the worst in recent memory. It joins these other notable fires in the city’s history.
Dec. 15, 1851
Raleigh’s fire of 1851 led to the creation of the city’s first fire department. On the east side of Fayetteville Street, four doors north of Hargett Street, a wooden tenement occupied by the boot and shoe store H.A. Depkin burned after bed clothing caught fire in a “sleeping apartment.” It spread in both directions along the east side of Fayetteville Street and burned for two and a half hours. A total of 17 buildings on Fayetteville, Hargett and Wilmington streets were destroyed. A city ordinance enacted the next day ordered the remaining wooden buildings on that block removed and prohibited the construction of any new wooden buildings there.
April 10, 1926
A fire burned the Dorothea Dix Hospital’s west wing. Nearby N.C. State University students formed a human chain to allow 1,000 patients to evacuate the burning building without escaping.
July 3, 1928
The Yarborough House Hotel was once the “social center of the capital” and was called the “third house of the legislature.” The fire there started in an elevator shaft, quickly spread throughout the wood-frame hotel and drew thousands of spectators. It raged for nearly five hours, and firefighters from as far away as Durham and Smithfield were called. The hotel was a total loss, and the Sir Walter soon took its place as the “third house of the legislature.”
Oct. 24, 1930
Raleigh’s City Auditorium was destroyed by a fire that started during the Negro State Fair Marshall’s Ball. Firefighters were able to save the municipal building next door. About 1,000 dancers and spectators escaped the fire, although there was one injury in a fight over the ownership of an overcoat.
July 28, 1956
On that Saturday night, the word went out all over Raleigh and then throughout the state: Lightning had struck Edenton Street Methodist Church, and it was burning down. The church was rebuilt, and on Feb. 2, 1958, members entered the new building for their first Sunday services there. The 50th anniversary of the fire was commemorated in 2006 with services that included a Bible rescued from the fire, with charred pages still open to the book of John.
June 24, 1970
The Peebles Hotel on East Hargett Street, known as “the city’s main Negro hotel,” was destroyed in a five-alarm fire. It had originally been the Lightner Arcade building, but in the late 1940s was acquired by the The N.C. Homemakers Association and renamed the Home Eckers Hotel. In the 1960s, the Peebles Hotel occupied the building.
July 7, 1981
The Mangel Building at 120 Fayetteville St., just south of the State Capitol, saw one of the largest fires in the modern history of downtown Raleigh. It started on the second floor of the department store building and raged out of control for three hours. An exterior wall collapsed two hours into the incident, damaging three cars in an adjacent parking lot. More than 100 firefighters battled the blaze, including 21 recruits. Every fire station in the city sent crews to the scene. The Wells Fargo building is on the site now.
Feb. 22, 2007
A wind-whipped fire started in pine straw by a carelessly tossed cigarette and destroyed two dozen townhouses at Pine Knoll Townes in North Raleigh. Called one of the worst fires in Raleigh’s history, it led to a city ordinance banning pine straw within 10 feet of multifamily dwellings.
Sources: Mike Legeros (Raleigh Fire Department historian and Raleigh Fire Museum president), N&O archives